Darkness Visible

On an inspired flight back from my first SAMA (Society of American Mosaic Artists) conference, in Austin, 2011, I sat furiously typing notes into my iPad for a dozen or more new mosaic pieces. Seeing such a variety of brilliant, original work had shattered my concepts of mosaic art in the best way. Images lined up in my imagination whose fulfillment would devour my foreseeable future.

Then I looked out the airplane window and realized we were on the ground. We had made a pit stop in Denver and were waiting on the runway. It was late night. Nothing was moving but a slow mist descending on the asphalt, making gauzy moons of the harsh airport lamps. Winking lines of blue and red lights spoke to pilots in the air. Parked airplanes lined the runway like a descending chord, tail fins shrinking into oblivion. In the distance, a suggestion of mountains was another shade of dark. Click. Another vision shaped the slow trajectory of my creative production.

It was the summer of 2015 before that image fell into the front slot of my mental slide projector. I was heading for a summer workshop with Sonia King at West Dean College, in England. I needed a project that was portable and small enough to accomplish in the 5-day class. About the size of an airplane window.

I made my sketch before leaving home and was surprised at how vivid the image had remained in my mind, how relatively easy it was to convey perspective and distance given a line of airplanes of diminishing size. But what I realized was that I had stumbled onto a subject that, unlike anything I’d done and very little that I had seen before, was about darkness. All that was light in it would be in service to the portrayal of the night. It was a study in black.

Me working at West Dean.jpg

Blissful beginnings at West Dean.

I brought a variety of dark art glass–one  with misty swirls of white, another with the navy blue glitter of a wet night sky–and some small tiles with variegated black and silver patterns. I brought metallic glass for the airplanes, red and blue for the runway lights. I found matte black Cinca tiles at West Dean. I had no idea how I would combine these materials, but that was the work of the intensely peaceful five days I spent at West  Dean under the tolerant, encouraging tutelage of Sonia King.

Despite the fact that my piece was entirely different from anyone else’s work, or anything I had ever seen in mosaic, and that I am sure nobody entirely understood what I was trying to do, I  moved forward as if I did.

Three days into the exercise I jotted down in my notebook,

“This is not about an airport runway. It is about forms disappearing into the dark.”

For whatever reason, these are the visual compulsions that truly govern us.

The only downside was that art whose dominant color is black is notoriously impossible to photograph, not to mention the intrinsic challenges of conveying the 3-D values of mosaic in 2-D photography. Two professional photographers took a shot at it.  This is the best I’ve got, for now.

Darkness Visible




One Response to “Darkness Visible”

  1. […] in Progress from Quake Mosaics « Encounter in Israel: Ilana Shafir Darkness Visible […]

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